18/09/17 – Session #14

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Bladon Castle – Burton On Trent


History

At the end of the eighteenth century, domestic service was the most common occupation which effectively made the upper and middle classes the country’s largest employer. With society organised very much by class, some people lived lives of unimaginable privilege but with status came responsibility.

It had just been demonstrated in the strongest possible way how things could turn very badly when status was seen to be abused. England’s aristrocrats were suddenly very self-aware of conspicuous consumption. Local High Bailiff, Abraham Hoskins, was about to make a serious mis-judgement in this regard.

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Hoskins had risen through the ranks from being a successful solicitor with a number of lucrative business interests to become the High Baliff of Burton upon Trent. He was also a director of the Burton Boat Company which leased shipping rights on the River Trent from Lord Paget. A respected pillar of society, his daughter, Sarah Hoskins, married Michael Thomas Bass senior the head of Bass brewery.

In 1795, aged 66, he was winding down and wanted to enjoy the leisurely lifestyle of a land-owning squire. He purchased land at Newton Solney from Sir Henry Every. Designer and architect, Francis Bernasconi, produced plans for an impressive Italianate mansion, Newton Hall, set in landscaped parkland.

At this time, there was a fashion for elaborate architectural conceits known as follies (from French folie meaning a delight or favourite place). Rich landowners, with plenty of leisure and money to burn built elaborate structures such as mock Greek temples, Roman arches, Swiss bridges, Chinese pagodas, and impressive towers in the grounds of their great houses.

Abraham Hoskins, believed to have been strongly influenced by his very much ‘indulged’ and fashionable eldest son, Abraham Hoskins junior, who in his late thirties, still lived at Newton Hall, commissioned a folly on land which formed part of the estate, on the summit of Bladon Hill which was very visible and looked down at the river trent.

The folly, designed by leading architect Sir Jeffrey Wyatville, looked for the world like a castle with pointer armoury windows and full battlements but was in fact, no more than a single long wall, rather like a film set.

In the climate of the Napoleanic war in mainland Europe, England was suffering hardship and was under serious threat of being invaded by Napolean’s Grande Armee. Hoskins had completely under-estimated how antagonistic his fake ‘castle’ would be and there was absolute upcry.

With such strong local reaction, the Hoskins family tried to defuse the situation by hurriedly building blocks of rooms behind the castle frontage an moved in claiming that this had always been the intended purpose. This was however, a far from popular idea with the Hoskins themselves. They had left the great comforts of Newton Hall to live at a site that had no services, including running water, and no sensible access. Daily supplies had to be hauled uphill by mule. Added to that, in tough times, the unexpected expense of having to turn the folly into an habitable ‘Bladon Castle’ had seriously stretched family finances with even talk of having to sell Newton Hall. Abraham senior died soon afterwards, in 1805. A marble tablet in Burton’s Saint Modwen’s church commemorates his life. Abraham junior was left in charge of the family’s very dwindling fortune. It turned out to be an extremely expensive folly!


Whilst this isn’t a “proper” castle, it is still very impressive! I only managed to check around part of it though as it became apparent that someone was living in another part of it. I wouldn’t want someone walking around my home uninvited, so I felt it best to leave.
What I did see however was absolutely stunning, even though it was in ruins. This could be a magnificent building if was completely restored, I do fear though, that it is well beyond restoration.

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